“Graduating” to the big bed is an exciting milestone! When and how to move your little one from a crib to a toddler bed? Learn how to help your growing toddler through this transition with our pointers and safety tips.
Wondering whether your little one is ready for a toddler bed? Even though this is an exciting milestone, transitions like this can be difficult for your toddler. So, we’ve put together a cheat sheet to help the move go smoothly for you both. We’ll cover timing, safety tips, and how to help your growing little one through this transition.
Here's your cheat sheet for transitioning your little one from a crib to a toddler bed:
- Know the signs that your child is ready.
- Be careful if there are other transitions in your toddler's life.
- Choose a safe bed (whether that’s a toddler bed or twin bed).
- Re-childproof the bedroom.
- Pick the bed spot carefully.
- Talk to your child about moving to the big bed.
- Establish the bed as your child’s space.
- Stick to a bedtime routine.
- Go over simple ground rules every night.
- Be patient.
- Try a clock for the morning “cue.”
- Praise your toddler for a job well done!
Now, let's go over all the steps in detail.
Know the signs that your child is ready.
When is it time to transition your child to a toddler bed? It’s not about age – it’s about readiness.
Toddlers can transition from the crib to a toddler bed any time between 18 months and 3 years of age. They’re ready if you observe any of these signs:
- Your little one is 35 inches tall or taller. Once your little one reaches this height, they’re at an increased risk of falling out of the crib, and should move to a toddler bed for safety.
- The height of the crib’s side rail is shorter than the height of your child’s chest. Again, this puts your little one at heightened risk for falls, so it’s no longer safe for them to stay in the crib.
- Your little one tries to climb out of the crib. This is dangerous, as they could fall. It’s better to move them to a bed with a lower height.
- Your child is asking to transition to a big kid bed.
What if you don’t see any of these signs? If your child seems happy in the crib, they aren’t trying to leave it, and they are small enough to stay there safely, feel free to keep them in the crib longer. Just keep in mind that the longer they stay in the crib, the harder the transition may be.
Learn more about when and how to transition your child to the big kid bed in this video from Slumber and Bloom:
Be careful if there are other transitions in your toddler's life.
Another thing to keep in mind is that transitions can be hard, so it’s best not to make the switch from crib to toddler bed if there’s another big change in progress. For instance, if you’re weaning your toddler off the pacifier, your toddler is starting potty training, you’ve recently moved, or they’ve started daycare, hold off on the bed transition if you can safely wait.
What if you’re expecting your little one’s new sibling? If you can start the toddler bed transition a few months before the new baby arrives, and your toddler is 18 months old or older, go ahead. This way, when baby comes, your toddler will be more comfortable in the new bed and not think of the crib as “theirs.”
But if the new baby is already here, handle the transition with care. Moving your older child to the toddler bed, then moving baby to your toddler’s old crib immediately, might make your toddler feel jealous.
Choose a safe bed.
Your child's crib might convert to a toddler bed. But if you don't have a convertible crib, or you're planning on passing the old crib down, it's time to buy a new bed.
Beds specifically designed for toddlers are usually the safest choice, since they are lower to the ground and have fall-stopping guardrails. Your child will eventually grow out of a toddler bed, though – once they reach 50 pounds, they’ll need to move to a twin bed.
You can also move your child to a twin bed right away, since they’ll be able to stay in that bed for years to come. But if you go this route, make sure the twin bed has a guardrail, or a space to attach one.
Whether you choose to get a bed that’s specifically designed for toddlers or a twin bed, your toddler’s new bed must have the following features to keep them safest:
- A profile that’s low to the ground, to lessen the distance of any falls. This also lets your little one easily get in and out of the bed on their own.
- Beds made specifically for toddlers tend to be lower, but a low-profile twin bed also works well.
- A guardrail to prevent rolling out, or a space where you can install a separate guardrail if one isn’t already attached.
- Make sure the guardrail is at least 5 inches tall.
- A mattress that fits the bed properly.
- Some toddler beds let you use your child’s crib mattress; other big beds require a twin mattress.
- A sturdy design that will stay strong, even if your toddler jumps on the bed or wiggles around during the night.
- Check for secure screws and joints.
- The approval of the JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association) for any toddler bed or guardrail you purchase.
- No hazards – no sharp edges, pinch points, or rough areas.
Re-childproof the bedroom.
Once they’re in a toddler bed, your child will be able to access anything within their reach. It’s almost like the whole room is their “crib,” since they could climb out of the bed during the night.
That means it’s time for another round of childproofing:
- Check that all furniture is securely anchored to the wall.
- Put safety latches on dresser drawers.
- Make sure there are no exposed electrical cords.
- Get rid of anything your child could get tangled in (this includes curtain cords).
- Cover all exposed outlets with outlet covers.
- Lock all the windows.
- Cover any sharp corners.
- Plan to have pillows or a rug at the bottom of your child’s bed, in case they’d try to climb out. This will help break any falls.
- If your little one’s room is upstairs, put a baby gate at the top of the stairs (if one isn’t there already).
- Place bells – or a toddler door alarm – on your little one’s door, so you can tell if your little one leaves the room. You could also use a baby gate to keep your toddler in their room. A gate isn't the best option in case of fire, though.
Pick the bed spot carefully.
Your child’s headboard needs to be tight against the wall, so there’s no gap. And to keep your child from getting trapped, you’ll either need to keep both sides of the bed well away from the wall, or keep one side tight against the wall. (Make sure the open sides have guardrails.)
Keep the bed away from windows, electrical cords, and heaters or radiators. Also, keep the bed away from anything that could fall onto it.
Talk to your child about moving to the big bed.
At least a few days before it's time to move to the big bed, let your child know what's going on. It's important to give them some warning, as a sudden move out of the place they've always slept would be too overwhelming.
Tell your child that they're a big boy or girl now, so they're going to sleep in a big bed. Emphasize how exciting this is!
Say exactly what's going to happen, whether you're getting them a totally new bed or "turning" their (convertible) crib into a big bed.
Also, explain the simple rules your child will need to follow now that they have a bed – most importantly, that they'll need to stay in bed the entire night.
Establish the bed as your child’s space.
Before it’s time for your child to start sleeping in their new bed at night, read stories there so your little one can get comfortable in the bed.
You might even read books about moving to the new bed, such as “Big Bed For Giraffe” or the Sesame Street book “Big Enough For A Bed.” Or, try making a custom book that features pictures of family members sleeping in their own bed, and looking through that book while your child sits in their new bed.
You can also have your child nap in the new bed, or let them use the bed for quiet and calm playtime.
Letting your little one pick their bedding is another way to help them get excited about the transition and give them control and ownership. You might even personalize a special blanket, or allow your little one to choose a new stuffed animal or two for the bed.
Stick to a bedtime routine.
When your little one is going through this big change, it helps to keep the rest of bedtime familiar and comforting. If you currently follow a bedtime routine with your toddler, stick to it in the same order you’ve already established. This could include bedtime stories, the bath before bed, lullabies, or hugs from you.
Haven’t started any sort of bedtime routine yet? Start a new one, where you do the same set of “wind-down” activities in the same order, at least two to three weeks before you transition your little one to the bed. Once it’s transition time, the routine will be a cue that it’s time for bed – even though the new bed is different.
Go over simple ground rules every night.
It's also helpful to talk through what happens after your child gets in bed, and set expectations.
Try something like this: "We get in bed, we lay down, we cover up. Goodnight! Now, we keep our eyes closed and stay in bed until it's morning."
Repetition is key here, so talk through the steps each night.
And remember – understanding the rules and following them are very different for a toddler, since impulse control is hard at this age. So, patience is vital (see the next point below).
It usually takes a month to a few months before your little one will be fully adjusted to their new bed. If your child leaves the bed or their room, quickly and calmly put them back into bed without making a big deal out of it. Leave the room as soon as you can.
Try a clock for the morning "cue."
It might also help to buy a clock that changes colors when it's morning (and okay for your child to get out of bed). Or, if your child recognizes numbers, you can tape over the minutes over a digital clock so they can only see the hour number. Then, tell your child that once they see a "6" (or the number of your choice), they can get out of bed and see you.
Praise your toddler for a job well done!
Praise goes a long way in smoothing out the transition. Some parents recommend mentioning how well your child is doing with sleeping in the big bed, both to stuffed animals and to family and friends when your child can hear. Toddlers love to please their parents, so this is a great strategy!
You might even use a sticker chart, and give your child a sticker for every night they stay in their bed. If they stay in bed every night for a whole week, reward them with a special outing or some one-on-one time.
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